Doctor Assisted Suicide

estate planning attorneyAttorneys for a group of terminally ill individuals have taken legal action to prevent prosecution of physicians who provide assistance in dying to terminally ill, mentally competent individuals. The attorneys have sued 5 district attorneys and the attorney general for the State of New York to stop them from prosecution of physicians who provide assistance in dying to terminally ill patients. Kathryn Tucker, the Executive Director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, represents the plaintiffs. She recently stated “this case is about letting the patient, the individual, choose how they will cross the threshold to death when faced with the final ravages of terminal illness.”

Presently under New York law, terminally ill, mentally competent New York residents can opt to withdraw life prolonging medical procedures to hasten their death. Examples of medical assistance they can refuse to take involve the utilization of ventilators and feeding tubes. They can also ask for drugs to keep them in a deep sleep while they slowly die of hunger and thirst.

Doctor Assisted Suicide

New York has a statute which prevents doctor assisted suicide. It is an E felony to “promote a suicide attempt.” This is defined as intentionally causing or aiding another person to commit suicide. In addition, there is a second statute which classifies the act of intentionally causing or aiding another person to commit suicide as a C felony, also known as second degree manslaughter. A Class C felony can be punishable by a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, and a Class E felony can be punishable by a sentence of up to 4 years in prison. This lawsuit states there is no “valid statutory basis” to prosecute doctors who provide aid in dying because a mentally competent, terminally ill patient opting for a “peaceful death” does not constitute suicide. Ms. Tucker, when interviewed, stated the law in New York creates a “chill in the environment” which may make physicians fearful of assisting patients with suicide.

Aid in dying statutes make it legal to assist patients with suicide in the States of New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana. This lawsuit seeks to bring the State of New York into this group.

Elliot S. Schlissel is an elder law attorney. He helps clients with regard to wills and estate issues.estate lawyer in New York